Zayan & Ayman’s malay journey

Continuing on my post of getting my kids to be more bilingual, let me expand more on how things have been and are doing for the kids.

When Zayan was a baby, I spoke more Malay with him. As he grew older, his speech was delayed. He didnt speak until he was 2 years plus – though his understanding of speech was good and he is a master of facial expressions and body language. 

I would be speaking to him in malay and pointing out objects: “Tu kerita!“ (Direct translation: That car) “kerita!” “car!” No response. Over time, it was just far easier to say it in one language to ensure he understands. Also plenty of words in Malay are two or three syllables.

Ke-re-ta = car

Ca-wan = cup

Pi-ring= plate

Ja-ngan= Dont

To-long = Help

So it seemed far easier (and lazier for me) to talk in English. What a rookie mistake, one that I actually regret a lot. It is far easier in the long run to speak malay and overcome that initial challenge, than to teach kids who already is proficient in the majority-language. I was and continue to be the only malay speaker in their lives, with family far away and little engagement with Bruneian/malaysian community here – I am usually working when there are events and because all the ones I know have gone home, I no longer know the community and feel like an outsider. Also I realise when we do meet with Bruneians here, they tend to talk in English to the kids – probably again because it is far easier and simpler to get communication across.

Now Zayan is just a chatterbox, wouldnt stop talking. Over time, I started talking in malay more. He just didnt get me though. And then he started getting frustrated. “I DONT understand you!” Seriously a year ago, he would be crying because he didnt understand what I was trying to say. Even when I explained it in English. Sigh.

As for Ayman, I was determined to learn from my mistake and start speaking from the beginning. I would be talking to him in malay when he was a baby and secretly hoping by osmosis that Zayan will get it too. Now Ayman actually knows a lot more malay words and understands me more. Also he doesnt get frustrated – he takes it like a baby who is learning a language. He just takes it in stride when he doesnt completely understand. I dont tend to explain in english to him unless I really need him to understand. Eg dont play near the hot oven! His speech development for both languages is more advanced than Zayan was at his age. I guess there is the advantage of having an older brother being chatty to you as well!

As he turned two, I saw a shift in him though. Whilst before he would say words in malay like ‘susu’, he now speaks in English. Especially since he started nursery 6 months ago. When he asks for milk, I would say ‘mau susu?’ and he would go ‘NO NOT SUSU! MILK!’ He knows susu is milk but he doesnt want that word to be used anymore. I persist though and go ‘ok, susu….’ to his background of ‘Milk! milk! not susu!’.

So in the last year, I became gentler with my approach. I say single malay words on things they encounter a lot. “Ok, let’s mandi…” “Tidur time…” “Do you want to eat nasi and ayam?” So now they recognise and even say the individual words. 

Zayan has also come to realise that he knows two languages. He knows susu and he knows milk. He used them interchangeably. M once said ‘what if he uses susu at nursery?’ but I think kids have innate ability to know when to speak what or learn when someone doesnt understand them anyway. I’m not sure what he was thinking when he heard malay and english… and in my case, I mix them up a lot even with malay friends and with my family. Now he has acknowledged they are two different languages. He also realised that he cant have a proper conversation with his grandparents and I think that fueled him to learn more. He now asks what the malay word is for so-and-so. The thing is a lot of times, I dont even know what it is! “Mama, what’s aubergine in malay?” “Whats construction in malay?” Oh dear, can you see my battle here. 

Over the last week, as I vow to speak more Malay and teach them more, I realise how much Zayan understands though. 

This was our conversation few days ago:

“Mama, my leg is hurting….”

“Kenapa ya sakit?”

“Why does it hurt? I dont know!”

“Zayan gugur kah?”

“No, I didnt fall….”

“Bila ya start sakit?” (ok I cannot say ‘mula’ … it sounds so formal)

“Are you asking when?”


“Uhhh 40 years…”

“Apa?? You’re not even born yet 40 years ago!” (Had to respond that ludricous statement in english)

“Ohh ok… erm 20 days…”

“Ok, kalau zayan lari, sakit?”

“No it doesnt hurt when I run.”

I was pleasantly surprised how much he understands! Which is now encouraging me to just speak in malay. 

As for Ayman, as I am introducing more malay reading and writing exercises to zayan (I know, I’m so nerdy and such a tiger mum), he feels proud that HE knows the answers. He knows the body parts and handful of animals. So now he is one up than his brother (who excels and ‘wins’ more on things usually). 

So hopefully this is a good start in the kids journey to mastering malay. Though their sensei mama is not even that great a speaker, but hey I worked hard at GCE O level malay, so I can do it again. Maybe this is my  opportunity to learn and get to know my language – both standard malay and bruneian dialect- more.

1 Comment

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One response to “Zayan & Ayman’s malay journey

  1. Nazimah

    Ok will find a suitable reading material for them asap!!

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